School District Asks for Clarity After Student Deportation Article

The Huntington school district is calling for a clarification of procedures between the district and the Suffolk County Police Department in light of an article published by The New York Times and ProPublica about the deportation of a Huntington High School student.

Headlined “How a Crackdown on MS-13 Caught Up Innocent High School Students,” the report recounts how a student identified as Alex came to the attention of school and police authorities after first wearing blue sneakers and then doodling images of a devil with horns–the school’s mascot. 

A central issue highlighted in the story is how a suspicion on the part of educators and the school resource officer made its way into a database and then into the hands of the Immigration and Custom Enforcement authorities, who eventually arrested him and held him for more than a year before he was deported back to Honduras. The story noted that the Department of Justice and the National Association of School Resource Officers recommend that police departments and school districts create formal agreements to make sure everyone understands how information will be shared. In Suffolk County, the story said, there is no such agreement.

In a message sent to school community residents on Friday, school leaders–Superintendent James W. Polansky and all seven school board trustees– wrote, “We have enjoyed a productive working relationship with the area’s SRO (school resource officer) through the years. He has helped and guided numerous students and families in our district and others. In light of the current national and local concerns, however, we believe that we must advocate for an additional layer of organization addressing the relationship between school districts and the police department. It is our firm belief that such an agreement would establish formal procedural guidelines  associated with the SRO position, as well as with information flow and restrictions. It is our additional belief that this would not only provide guidance and protection for schools, schools staff and students, but for the SRO’s and the Department, as well.”

And message added, “While it would be simple to argue statements and context in numerous places within the article, it does not change the fact that the events, as presented, are beyond upsetting. We deeply regret “the harm faced by any family in our community who has been separated from a child. In that light, systems and processes at the high school will be reviewed thoroughly in an effort to maintain a safe haven, as well as the happiness and well-being of all students. ”

The district also posted the message, in English and in Spanish, on its website.

The police department told Newsday, “SCPD has a strong relationship with the school districts it serves and …we consider the wishes of the districts as paramount to maintaining these relationships.”

It is unclear whether other local districts with school resource officers follow the same procedures of identifying potential problems that are then made available to ICE. Messages sent Friday, when schools were closed for the holidays, were not returned.

ProPublica is a nonprofit organization that does investigative journalism, and has won four Pulitzers since its founding in 2007.

The next school board meeting is Monday, Jan. 7.







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